In March 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union. Europe had been on the brink of a new Cold War. Facing an old-fashioned and non-competitive economy, he introduced two new concepts in order to vitalize his society. Glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) were launched as the main incentives to modernize the ailing U.S.S.R.. Even more importantly, he silently buried the so-called Brezhnev doctrine, formulated in 1968 after the invasion of Czechoslovakia. The Brezhnev doctrine threatened countries trying to escape the rigidities of the communist system with military intervention.
The spokesperson of the foreign office in Moscow, Gennadi Gerasimov, finally declared that the new Soviet attitude should be called the "Sinatra doctrine," referring to the singer's famous song "I Did It My Way". Each and every country was responsible for its own affairs. Communism as a top-down, overarching and, most of all, dictatorial ideology was declared obsolete. The result was astonishing. In a few years' time, communism died out almost completely and with it the old/new Cold War withered away, creating space for other ideologies like liberal democracy and nationalism.
In the Middle East, and, in particular, since the end of the British Mmandate over Palestine in 1948, the Jews and the Arabs are engaged in a struggle for land. They are trying to divide the territory between them using violent means, - occupation and resistance - or non-violent means - negotiations. So far they have been unsuccessful. A series of wars between Israel and the Arab countries has resulted in a relatively stronger position for Israel, since diplomatic relations and, thus, mutual recognition between Egypt and Israel were agreed upon in 1979 and between Jordan and Israel in 1994. Any claims from Egypt and Jordan on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (and Jerusalem), respectively, were given up, thereby acknowledging that only the Jews and the Palestinians had the right to dispute those areas.
The partition of the British Mmandate over Palestine into two states was officially recognized by the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947 (Resolution 181). Since then, the Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting over the area for more than half a century. At the end of the 1990s they seemed close to an understanding. The unofficial borders as delimited on the eve of the Six Day War in June 1967, were taken as a starting point for an agreement on the final borders between the two states. Unfortunately, the Camp David negotiations in 2000 between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his Palestinian counterpart, President Yasser Arafat, moderated by American President Bill Clinton and aimed at a final- status agreement, failed. The new Israeli government led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to end the negotiation process, and instead embarked on a unilateral road towards the delineation of, at least, Israel's final borders. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who succeeded Sharon and heads a broad coalition, has the full support of a majority of the Israeli people to solve the problem along a one- way street. "I do it my way," Olmert declared over and again during the election campaign. Will his version of the Sinatra doctrine be successful?
The punitive expeditions into Gaza and Lebanon, in the summer of 2006, in response to the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, and mainly directed against Hamas and Hizbullah, were very much in line with Olmert's thinking. It was not an attempt to re-conquer or re-colonialize Gaza or Southern Lebanon, but merely punishment for an intolerable action (kidnapping) in the vain hope that this might result in the release of the soldiers.
One of the reasons why it is so difficult for the parties to reach a common understanding of the Middle East conflict is that the Israelis and the Palestinians are making use of different paradigms in dealing with it. The Israelis look through the prism of a peace paradigm, while the Palestinians make use of a freedom paradigm.
A peace paradigm is based on the assumption that two parties have a common interest (peace = no war) which they try to achieve through the introduction of mechanisms, structures and treaties aimed at a stabilization of their mutual relations. The Cold War in Europe, in the second half of the 20th century, was based on treaties (the Helsinki Accords) as well as on a system of nuclear deterrence, officially called Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), which made real war unthinkable - because nobody would survive - and thereby obsolete. Schematically, the Cold War paradigm, as a concrete example of a peace paradigm, can be depicted as follows:
(St = Stabilizer: MAD, Helsinki Accords, etc.; W = West: NATO; E = East: Warsaw Treaty Organization)
The peace paradigm is a stable system, since there is shared interest to uphold the system. As long as the stabilizer is in place, it guarantees peace. In the first half of the 1980s, many people feared that the East and, in particular, the West were undermining the stabilizer through the deployment of new categories of nuclear weapons which could be used on the battlefield. In other words, a real nuclear war became thinkable, undermining the MAD system. Although a (nuclear) war was not imminent, future generations might be confronted with it. Millions of people went on the street with banners reading, "I want peace for my grandchildren too."
In the second half of the 1980s the peace paradigm imploded. Due to Gorbachev's embrace of the Sinatra doctrine, the ideological confrontation between East and West came to an end. The MAD system was undermined not by the deployment of new weapons but by the opposite: the withdrawal and dismantling of whole categories of nuclear weapons from Europe. Paradoxically the West was most concerned about these developments, being much more addicted to the MAD system. Only days before the Berlin Wall came down, on November 9, 1989, politicians in the West still believed that the existing peace paradigm between East and West would hold into the foreseeable future.
The Oslo process of the 1990s was the first serious attempt to establish a peace paradigm between the Israelis and the Palestinians on the territory they inherited from the British Mandate. The Oslo Accords signed in September 1993 by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, under the patronage of President Clinton, opened the doors for a two- state solution, and were designed as a stabilizer for peace. However, final-status negotiations in Camp David in 2000 could not overcome the main stumbling blocks, i.e., delimitation of the borders, return of refugees, and, last but not least, the status of Jerusalem (Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif). A second Intifada broke out and, although the Bush administration launched a "'road map"' towards a two- state solution, the parties were unable, or unwilling, to embark seriously on that road. The 'road map' never became a potential Stabilizer replacing the Oslo Accords.
The main paradigm in the Middle East is the freedom paradigm. It, too, is based on the assumption that there are two parties with a common interest. But their main interest is not peace, but freedom. In essence, the freedom paradigm can be depicted as a tilted (over 90°) peace paradigm. The stabilizer in the peace paradigm has become the oppressor in the freedom paradigm. And the parties in the peace paradigm, who are both trying to sustain the stabilizer, are replaced by parties whose common interest is to destabilize and remove the oppressor. Thus, the freedom paradigm is by definition unstable.
Schematically, the freedom paradigm in the Middle East can be depicted as follows:
(Op = Oppressor: Israel; Out = outside forces: some Arab countries, Iran, Hezbollah, UN assembly, etc.; In = inside forces: Intifada, Hamas, Fatah, etc.)
As a non-stop mantra, it has been repeated by the outside and inside forces that it is all about the occupation. Since 1967, the Palestinians have faced various forms of occupation. First, full occupation, from 1967-1987, a period in which human security in terms of freedom from want was relatively secured. Next, the first Intifada, from 1987-1993, a rather peaceful uprising of the Palestinian people against the Israeli oppressors. Then, the period of the Oslo process, from 1993-2000, with fragmented self-rule for the Palestinians laid down in A, B and C territories, and daily humiliations through an Israeli policy of closures, and a growing impoverishment. Next, from 2000, a second Intifada, from 2000 - characterized by asymmetric war fighting - suicide attacks (martyrs) versus high-tech weapons (extrajudicial killings) - and a high degree of human insecurity in terms of freedom from fear. Finally, a unilateral disengagement policy by Israel, introduced in 2005, and aimed at lifting the burden of occupation from Israel's shoulders by withdrawing behind a safe and final-border wall.
Each of these episodes can be depicted by the freedom paradigm, although the Oslo Accords were intended to convert the freedom paradigm into a peace paradigm. The failure of Camp David (2000) convinced the new Israeli government that it was impossible to agree on peace with the Palestinians. Nolens volens, it accepted the freedom paradigm as an inescapable reality. Sharon made a political U-turn by reversing a policy of occupation into a policy of disengagement in an attempt to get rid of the internal opposition to the freedom paradigm. Israel might argue that it is easier to protect the country against outside enemies than against inside and outside enemies. From a security point of view, the disengagement policy makes some sense, at least on paper. But the recent war with Hizbullah has shown that Israeli cities and citizens are not at all secured from barrages of missiles, despite an ongoing Israeli punitive operation in Gaza. Moreover, disengagement by itself does not lead to a change in paradigms.
For the Palestinians, the new picture looks rather grim. If Olmert is prepared to carry out (part of) his disengagement plans in the years ahead, in the end the Palestinians will be locked up in a number of separated enclaves totally surrounded by Israeli security forces (army, navy and air force). Even, in the case thatf they would officially declare an independent state of Palestine, it would not be contiguous at all, let alone economically viable. Moreover, given the population density ion the territories, the huge unemployment and the average age (under 25) of the population, the Olmert plan is also a recipe for the construction of a number of pressure cookers (enclaves) in which the Palestinians will be boiling until they explode. As long as there is some kind of interaction with the oppressor, hope might prevail that one day freedom will be realized. However, if the divorce between the oppressed and the oppressor is complete, desperation might take hold of many (young) people in the territories creating a rich environment for fundamentalist and/or terrorist networks.
"I will do it my way," Ehud Olmert promised his constituency. But in order to bring real peace to Israel, he also needs to develop a peace paradigm for both Israel and its adversaries, and most of all with the Palestinians. In the end, treaties have to be signed by all sides and, moreover, (international) security mechanisms should be developed and introduced which are of interest to all of them, should be developed and introduced. Gorbachev's use of the Sinatra doctrine dramatically changed the paradigms in Europe. Communism was eliminated in all Eastern European countries: The oppressors were removed from power and liberal-democrats took over. Also the old peace paradigm (MAD) collapsed, but was immediately replaced by a new one: the reunification of Germany and of Europe, so that peace and freedom could embrace each other. The Middle East has a long way to go before it will reach that stage. Olmert's use of the Sinatra doctrine might be a step in the right direction if, and only if, he also has a peace paradigm in mind. Peace needs two to tango.